Tracks: Black Sabbath; The Wizard; Behind the Wall of Sleep; N.I.B.; Evil Woman; Sleeping Village; The Warning; Wicked World
Best track: Black Sabbath
Track to skip: Sleeping Village
The opening track is one of the darkest, creepiest and heaviest songs ever written. I love how you can point to the beginning of Heavy Metal as this song. There were certainly other songs that led us to this point (Kinks’ You Really Got Me, any number of early Who tracks, Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, Blue Cheer’s Summertime Blues, King Crimson’s Schizoid Man), but I think this is the first true heavy metal song. It’s been over 40 years and the song hasn’t lost a single bit of its luster. I absolutely love the use of the bells throughout the song – they give it a spooky feeling, like letting you know of a hanging or something equally dark. I mean, you can’t go wrong with referencing Satan in the lyrics. You wanna scare people? THAT’S how you do it! All around, Black Sabbath is a fantastic song with great drumming, a classic guitar riff and perfect contributions from Ozzy and Geezer Butler. I never get tired of hearing this song. It’s a great introduction to the band, the album and a brilliant beginning for heavy metal.
The rest of side 1 continues on the excellent songwriting and punishing heaviness. Really, these four songs set the stage for so much that came later and they still inspire musicians. NIB tends to be the other classic on this side (another excellent guitar riff) and shows how Tony Iommi, even on this first Sabbath album, is the Master of the Guitar Riff. Others are great, but no one else comes close. I love both NIB and The Wizard, but I tend to gravitate to Behind the Wall of Sleep. A very cool and underrated song, it features more great riffs, cool changes and a fantastic heavy groove. This side is possibly one of the greatest album sides in the history of rock music. Absolutely monumental.
Side 2 is where the band experiments a bit and while it’s not consistently good, it at least shows Sabbath’s tendency to always be more than a heavy band. With Ozzy, the band not only created the framework of heavy metal, but always pushed those boundaries. I mean, yes, it doesn’t always work and Sabbath is always best in their “heavy” state, but I at least give them credit for trying. Even though they sometimes fall on their face. It seems to me that side 2 reverts back to their days as a blues rock band. The songs aren’t as good and in a sense don’t fit with that band on the first side. What’s with the sax in Evil Woman? Not needed. The groove’s not bad, but the song itself is only decent. Sleeping Village is just a mess of a composition. It starts out as a creepy slow song, but soon takes off into other, confusing, areas. Good riffs, but they don’t work together. The Warning starts off pretty well (and transitions wonderfully from Sleeping Village), but then for nearly half of the song the band decides to exercise their “jam” tendencies and Tony Iommi takes an unaccompanied guitar solo that sounds like a poor copy of Jimmy Page’s Heartbreaker solo. This song is 10 minutes long and doesn’t need to be over 4. It’s clear the band was just filling space on this second side. Wicked World has some interesting political lyrics, but it’s not an amazing composition.
So there you go, side 1 is inspired and classic…side 2 shows the band experimenting/filling space and pretty much failing at it. I’m not going to say the whole thing is “total fail”, but almost half of side 2 is an absolute waste. It’s so hard to grade albums like this. Side 1 is clearly in the 90’s, but side 2 is safely in the mid-70’s. You know, for the greatness alone of this album I’m going to put it higher than just an average. The first side is brilliant and some spotty filler on the latter half isn’t going to change that. For the most part, this album is inspired and inspiring. It changed heavy rock music and gave direction to so many future musicians.